It’s been almost a year since I last visited Amsterdam and Holland, one of my favorite business destinations, and not much was different as I walked through the airport heading for the taxi line earlier this week. But then it became clear how quickly things can change. Whereas a year ago I can’t remember seeing a single Tesla, either as a taxi or in general, today it is practically the only taxi car you see. As was explained to me this is partly an airport phenomenon since the airport makes a thing of having clean taxis, but nevertheless the speed of change is impressive. Getting into the back seat of one for a 50 km journey to Utrecht gave me the opportunity to explore this further in discussion with a very talkative taxi driver, and obviously to talk about the Tesla in general with someone who had driven it on a daily basis for almost a year.
As was explained to me, a Tesla is a very good deal for Dutch taxi companies. Through various discounts they get the P85 (i.e. the larger engine but not the trimmed P85+ version) for roughly EUR 50.000, around half the official price. No taxes apply to electric taxi cars and “re-fueling” is of course free. The driver was also very happy with the car. He hadn’t experienced any problems and said the GPS / entertainment system with its giant screen is highly addictive, something I’ve experienced from personal experience. So in other words, my previous impressions were confirmed and it’s all thumbs up?
Unfortunately not completely. There is a downside which, little surprise, starts with the range. The driver tells me he does get out 360-380 kms on a full charge, very respectable and not far away from Tesla’s claim. However this is Holland, a country with strict speed limits and even stricter controls (they’ve actually come up with a new one which is very difficult to fault: they measure the time it takes you to travel between two points…), so speed rarely exceeds 100 km/h. When you start going faster, the range starts dropping fast, especially above 130 km/h.
Secondly, there is the issue of superchargers: there are currently four stations in Holland, less than in Germany but probably objectively sufficient given the size of the country. However, the subsidies that not only taxi drivers enjoy on electrical cars mean there is not only a lot of Teslas but of electric cars in general. Tesla graciously let owners of other electrical cars use the superchargers against a small fee (in all countries, not just in Holland) but they anyway remain very attractive for owners of other brands given the short charging time. And even if Teslas have priority at the stations, this quite often means that the superchargers are not free. A full charge takes 40 minutes (or 20 minutes for 80%), but obviously if there are two cars in front of you, the pit stop quickly extends to 2 hours – quite annoying on a longer trip. This problem is obviously one Tesla owners risk seeing in other countries as well, and it’s probably only a question of time before Tesla restricts the superstation usage to Tesla owners. Until then however, it is something anyone thinking about a Tesla should bear in mind.
The third and final point actually relates to the build quality. As readers of this blog know I’ve driven a Tesla twice, but when you are behind the wheel you have so much else to focus on that you don’t pay as much attention to the small things as you do when you sit in the back seat. The first thing you note is how short the seat is, and how limited the head space is. Calling a Tesla a 2+2 car is exaggerated but it is not really comfortable if you are over say 1.75m. It also feels like there is a lot of plastic around you which is not of a quality comparable to the German brands. Door panels, backside of seats and various pieces around your feet do not give a very good impression. Finally, and most disappointing of all, the noise level is high even on ultra-smooth Dutch motorways, obviously an even bigger disappointment considering this is an electrical car. The wind and road noise already around 100 km/h by far exceeds any other premium brand in the same price class.
My first passenger trip in a Tesla thus became a bit of a wake-up call. No doubt, the Tesla Model S is an impressive effort from a company no one knew five years ago, and it remains a real thrill to drive. Furthermore, depending on where you live, ownership costs are typically very attractive, making the total costs very competitive even with quite a high purchase price. If you rarely go on longer drives and have small children, go for it. If you regularly travel longer distances, you should at least be aware of the limitations in range and comfort.